Surprise Players of the Year – Starting Pitchers

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Part Two of Three

Usually, it’s very odd for a starting pitcher to make the surprise list. Most pitchers that made the list in the past were converted from being a reliever to being a starter or had a dramatic turnaround in taking care of themselves. Sometimes a pitcher made this list by developing a new pitch and mastering it in a very short time period. Or, the pitcher came from some low profile college. This year’s surprise pitchers are a collection of all four types plus one pitcher who slid under the radar via a trade.  The only surprise starting pitcher last year was Duane Underwood. It’s a good sign, I think, that so many starting pitchers made the list this year.

martinez 74 2Jonathan Martinez came to the Cubs in the Darwin Barney trade in 2014. He pitched great at Kane County down the stretch in August of last year, but this year he’s surprisingly done it at Myrtle Beach. A rule five eligible right-hander, Martinez  has a 3.00 ERA. Martinez throws in the low 90s. He doesn’t really have a go to pitch but he knows how to pitch. It will be interesting to see what happens with his rule 5 status. The Cubs will not place him on the 40 man roster nor do I think any team will pick him up and place him on their 25 man roster. The 21 year old should be at AA Tennessee to start next year.

Brad Markey is in his second year in the system from Virginia Tech. Markey arrived at South Bend in May after spending six weeks in extended spring-training. He was later promoted to Myrtle Beach at the beginning of July where he’s started three games and has 0.76 ERA at high A. It’s been a strange year for Markey. He has gone from an afterthought reliever to a starter at low A and then at Myrtle Beach. He has done it all on performance. Markey throws strikes. That all he does. He has a nice plus curve to go with his low 90s fastball and can go throw both for strikes at any time.

NUll 65Jeremy Null had an excellent first half with a 2.33 ERA in 12 starts at low A South Bend. He was promoted to Myrtle Beach after being named All-Star of the Game at the Midwest League All-Star Game in Peoria. At Myrtle Beach, Null has struggled with minor injuries where he’s only made five starts in seven weeks. Null, at 6’7”, is a ground ball machine. Coming into this year, nobody knew that Null could rise so quickly in such a short time. Next year, I think, he starts out at Myrtle Beach but he won’t be there for long.

I never heard much about Oscar de la Cruz until this year. I tend to take Dominican stats with a grain of salt. Last year he had a 1.80 ERA in the DSL. I didn’t think much about him making it in the states, let alone skipping rookie league. Now every time I write about that Eugene Emeralds, I have to write about Oscar De La Cruz. The 6’4” righty is now allegedly closer to 6’6”. As the 20 year old continues to grow he is picking up more velocity on his fastball. He has been between 93 and 95 this year. Currently at Eugene, he has an ERA of 2.72 and has struck out 40 in 43 innings. It will be interesting to see how he continues to develop the rest of the year. He could be a candidate who rises quickly next year like Jeremy Null and Ryan Williams did this year.

Michael Wagner has come out of nowhere; not literally, but figuratively. The 6’3” right hander is from the University of San Diego. He was on the same college team as Kris Bryant and was drafted in the 15th round in 2013, the same as Bryant. Up to 2015, Wagner had been used as reliever. As a starter this year, Wagner has been near dominant. He has an ERA of 2.75 and opponents are only batting .237 against him. It should be interesting to see if the Cubs continue to have him start games next year. He has punched his ticket for a promotion for 2016.

thorpe 79 1Tommy Thorpe did not look good as a reliever for South Bend early in the year. Let’s be honest here, I wondered if he was going to stick with the organization beyond 2015. His ERA splits of 4.22 in April and 4 .86 were not impressive out of the pen. On June 4th Tommy was pressed into a starting role and he’s never looked back. It is a role that suits him. A 2.70 ERA for June and a 3.00 ERA in four July starts makes him a starter for the rest of the season. It is amazing to watch him use three pitches rather than just two, which he did as a reliever. It has made all the difference.

Zach Hedges is another pitcher I have gushed about all summer. He has pretty much come out of nowhere even though I knew the Cubs drafted him last year. He pitched in rookie ball last year for a little bit and skipped short season A ball this year. He throws his fastball in the 90-94 range. When he has command of the fastball, he is hard to hit as he mixes in a PLUS slider along with a solid change and a developing curve ball. There’s still some physical projection left, too, to add a couple ticks to his fastball. His ERA splits this summer are outstanding at 3.23 in June, 3.62 in July, and 2.57 in August.

Surprise Pitcher of the Year
williams 82 2015Out of all the pitchers in the Cubs organization in 2015, Ryan Williams has been the most surprising and the most dominant. He began the year at low A South Bend. He had a 1.17 ERA from April through May for the young Cubs where Ryan struck out 37 in 36 innings. Opponents batted only .190 off him. Williams commanded the bottom of the zone pitching 91 to 93 miles an hour and rarely walking batters. In fact, he only walked two in his tenure at South Bend. Williams was promoted to AA Tennessee in early June. In his 10 starts at AA, he has a 2.98 ERA, striking out 43 in 57 innings, and I expect him to start out 2016 at AAA Iowa. He is physically developed now bat 6’4″ and 235 lbs. He already has pitched 131 innings this year, and he still has about six or seven starts to go. That’s a nice amount of innings (160-170) to make a player ready for the big leagues in a couple of years. I see him as a back of the rotation starter for now, or I could see him as a power reliever where he could add some  2 to 3 mph to his fastball. He has the command to do either.

Next year’s list
Junior Marte and Gabriel Lima are just two of many candidates from the Cubs’ teams overseas who could make the list next August. Scott Effross, a recent draftee, is currently a reliever but he has talked openly about his and the Cubs’ desire to start him next year. Another candidate is fellow 2015 draftee Casey Bloomquist from San Luis Obispo, who once you start digging, has a nice little resume including outdueling first round pick Dillon Tate.

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